this week in late night

The Trolls of Late Night

Seth Meyers on Late Night. Photo: NBC

It may not seem like it, now that we have an 1337 haxor presidential candidate, but we’re still in the early days of the internet. Nobody really knows what the fuck is going on or what the limits to our behavior in this new virtual space should be. So far, we’ve been using it to simultaneously reveal our deepest insecurities and mercilessly roast the deepest insecurities of others. It’s a flawed system, and one that has more gray areas than you’d expect.

John Oliver devoted most of his episode this week to public shaming, by which he mostly meant public internet shaming — the internet being where most of the shame is currently located. Oliver revealed that his writing team interrogates itself frequently about whether they’re shaming the right people. It’s the “punching up versus punching down” discussion with even more variables, like if they’re public figures and if they expressed remorse. Oliver listed three questions the writers ask themselves every time they think about using their platform to shame someone: “Should we use their name? How much power do they have? Do they have a soul patch?” A soul patch is, by definition, a remorseless abuse of the power to grow facial hair. Oliver’s interview with Monica Lewinsky put a very human face on the problem of internet trolling. Her advice to people currently persecuted was simply to remember that it will pass. Something she didn’t suggest was suing parody accounts, but Devin Nunes just can’t be told.

No one knows how to handle the internet, but most of us know not to sue the internet. People like Nunes and Trump are not everyone. “Don’t feed the trolls,” they always say, but what about when you’ve been a professional troll your entire life? Nunes is suing Twitter and named two parody accounts as damaging his reputation: @DevinNunesMom and @DevinCow. Every late-night show had a take on the Nunes suit because it’s ridiculous. But Seth Meyers was the only one to point out that not only did the lawsuit bring attention to the Nunes parody accounts, it made the FCC compliant to show a NSFW drawing showing Nunes human-centipede-ing with Trump and Putin. Meyers is pretty sure he’s legally required to make T-shirts and sell them at the NBC store.

According to Trevor Noah, you can’t apologize to your internet peanut gallery either. It makes you weak. Beto unrolled a truly bonkers campaign last week and apologized for several gaffes this week. According to Noah, holding yourself accountable for being a tone-deaf weirdo, or “woke bae” in his words, is disqualifying in a presidential candidate. He won’t do anything about missiles because he’ll be too busy holding listening sessions, which is something war-hawk candidates say all the time about candidates who aren’t stereotypically “tuff enuff.” But Noah was one of the people making fun of Beto’s campaign last week. Whether he’s running for Senate or Trevor Noah’s approval, Beto can’t win.

So you can’t respond in anger to trolls, and you can’t apologize. Can you stop using social media? Absolutely not. Whether you’re the president, a freelance pop-culture writer, or a Real Housewife, part of your job is tweeting about your job. Lisa Rinna has to watch herself be unhinged, then tweet and blog about it like she’s learned from her mistakes and is a different person. It’s your chance to shape the narrative. That’s what Trump does when he says Google has a left-leaning bias that only shows negative stories about him, and that’s what Lisa Rinna does when she goes on Busy Tonight and demands people tell her that she has nothing to apologize for. But every tweet or talk-show appearance is also another chance for internet furor. There’s only one thing you can do when the internet is on your nuts, and it’s swing so wildly off-topic that everyone has no choice but to try to keep up with you. Behold the machinations of Cam Newton.

I do not understand this clip. I’ve read multiple articles about this clip, all purporting to explain it, and I’m still lost. Newton took such a shocking swerve that I am left in awe. On The Late Late Show, James Corden asked Newton why he posts flowers on Instagram. His explanation? He’s doing a No Nut March. First of all, that’s not even an alliteration. Secondly, how is that in any way related to the flowers? What do the flowers signify in the world of orgasm denial? I’ve seen flowers next to people’s names on social media represent that they were socialists, or that they were bottoms, but never because they were on a fap fast. My only theory at the moment is that Newton posts flowers on Instagram for much darker reasons, and when asked about it he blurted out the first wild fact about himself he could muster. So the next time you are asked about your internet presence, just yell real loud about how you don’t jerk off anymore. Someone should tell Devin Nunes’s cow.

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The Trolls of Late Night